It was a surreal experience. 25 young, inexperienced soldiers standing underwear-naked in the chilly pre-dawn fog of the wintry Israeli desert. Shivering uncontrollably like a live fish out of water, I stood there amongst them, appreciating the magical cloud blanket that enveloped us whilst attempting to delay the inexorable onset of hypothermia that would kick in – in the coming minutes. The icy pavement thawed my bare feet, and a light breeze sent spasm-like shivers down my shoulders and chest.
“Not quick in enough” our commander mentioned quietly, authoritatively, as he mulled the ludicrous situation. The mesmerising cries of morning birds and the stoic stares we received from trees peeking out from the fog, made me feel like I was in Vietnam on some classified reconnaissance mission.
The commander disapprovingly stared at his watch, prompting the entire squad to reset their timers in anticipation for the next task. ‘3:45am’ my watch glared – emanating an icy cold blue backlight that nicely accompanied the freezing temperatures that seared through bones.
“25 seconds, everyone is asleep in their sleeping bags. Tze!!! (Go – in Hebrew)”
A sudden rush of adrenalin prompted the huddled mass of skinny, pale 18 year olds to sprint back into the tent, dodging rain puddles, kitbags and mattresses – on the way to Ho Chi Min city, I imagined – a rag-tag team of naked commandos conquering the tent and then moving on to greater things.
25 seconds later, an eerie silence enveloped the area, as I quietly listened to the symphony of breathing and panting that permeated the darkness and shadows that played across the nylon roof over our heads. The commander imposingly burst into the tent and scanned the beds from side to side, as 25 pairs of eyes followed his every move in the dark. “3 minutes, everybody is outside in full uniform. Tze!!!!!”
As I switched on the light and jumped out of my sleeping bag, struggling to put on my pants with one hand, and my socks with another, one thought was left hanging on my shoulder: “Welcome to the Israeli army”